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JAZZ NOTES

Terry Trotter Gives Sondheim the Jazz Treatment

November 03, 1995|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The songs of Stephen Sondheim may work well on the Broadway stage, but they usually prove a bit thorny when attempts are made to translate them to the jazz medium. In the hands of pianist Terry Trotter, however, they cease to be a problem.

"Not many jazz musicians have covered Sondheim's songs because they're not easy to transmogrify," said Trotter, a splendid be-bop-based pianist whose "Company . . . in Jazz," his third album of Sondheim material for Varsese Sarabande, has just been released.

"Still, though they're conceived for Broadway, these songs have the elements of harmony and melody that can handle a jazz treatment. But it takes sorting through the material, because not all of the songs are suited to jazz. But some, like 'The Ladies Who Lunch,' was ideal for an intense, stretched-out kind of treatment."

Trotter has built a career around providing keen accompaniment for such singers as Natalie Cole, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, though early on he was a steadfast jazzman who was once offered a job with Miles Davis. His association with Sondheim goes back to the mid-'70s when he appeared as one of two pianists in Sondheim's musical "Side by Side by Sondheim," which played in Los Angeles at what is now the James Doolittle Theatre.

The pianist's previous Sondheim recordings are "Passion . . . in Jazz" and "Sweeney Todd . . . in Jazz." The recordings--all of which were done with the composer's approval--feature a trio composed of Trotter, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera and guest artists: saxophonist Lanny Morgan, guitarist John Pisano and singer Lorraine Feather. The band--with John Chiodini in for Pisano--will be on hand to perform selections from the albums Monday at Catalina Bar & Grill. Showtimes are 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Trotter figures to grab a new jazz fan or two at Catalina's. "I know my audience for these albums is more Broadway than jazz, and I feel good bringing those listeners to jazz," he said. "I'm trying to do what Sondheim is about and keep it connected to jazz. That's the challenge." Information: (213) 466-2210.

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Classic Collection: MCA Music Entertainment Group, the umbrella company for GRP Records, has acquired the rights to the master recordings of the famed Commodore record label. Commodore, founded and operated by acclaimed producer Milt Gabler, was in business from 1938 to 1957 and recorded such jazz greats as Billie Holiday--including her hits "Strange Fruit" and "Fine and Mellow"--Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Ben Webster, Red Norvo and Teddy Wilson.

The Commodore recordings will be reissued on the GRP label, beginning with compilations hand-picked by Gabler. No release date has been set. The complete Commodore catalogue has been reissued on LP only by mail-order Mosaic Records, but those collections are now out of print.

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Benefit for Berklee: Joe Williams, Gary Burton, Ernie Watts, Jeff Lorber and Alan Broadbent are among those taking part in a benefit performance Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the House of Blues. Proceeds from the affair go to a House of Blues Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and MusiCares, a charitable foundation set up by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Information: (213) 650-1451.

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Berklee celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and has had a Southern California presence since 1993. The college operates the Berklee Center in L.A., a place for alumni to make industry contacts and as a resource center for prospective students. The college also hosts "Berklee in L.A.," a yearly program at Claremont McKenna College. For information on these programs, call (617) 266-1400.

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Around Town: The exciting young trumpet whiz Nicholas Payton performs through Sunday at Catalina Bar & Grill, (213) 466-2210. And pianist Claude Williamson investigates his fondness for Bud Powell on Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., at the Jazz Bakery, (310) 271-9039.

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Free Music: The first-rate Los Angeles Jazz Quartet featuring Chuck Manning on saxophone, Larry Koonse on guitar, Darek Oles on bass and Kevin Tullius on drums appears tonight, 5:30 to 8:30, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Information: (213) 857-6000.

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